Single-digit temperatures don't deter participants from the annual swim

How cold? "9 or 10 degrees Celsius, but it is fine, it feels good," said Claudy, who took part with around 1,000 others in the annual rite at Malo-les-Bains in northern France.

Similar scenes played out elsewhere in Europe, some themed, others not, with the common denominator being a willingness to take the plunge as others cheer from the shore, wearing woolen caps and gloves. Costumes and glasses of champagne are often part of the fun. Many simply donned a bathing suit and cap and dove in.

In the Netherlands, a crowd of about 10,000 had a swim in the North Sea at Scheveningen, a seaside resort, where the water was a frosty 7 degrees Celsius. An epic beach bonfire more than 131 feet high had showered nearby streets with burning embers on New Year's Eve. English visitor Hillary, 28, summed up the January 1 dip in one word: "glacial".

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Further north, at Norderney Island off the German coast, the North Sea was just 5 degrees C, but 500 people of all ages jumped in just the same. In the German capital, 11 "Berliner Seehund" (Berlin seals) honoured their swim club's tradition in the Oranke lake.

The New Year’s Day swim, Loony Dook, near Scotland’s capital Edinburgh drew several hundred people to the Forth River for a dip. The annual event began in 1987 when two friends decided it was a good way to sober up after the indulgences of New Year's Eve. These days the event is also a fundraiser for local charities, with evening gowns replacing bathing suits.

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Meanwhile, four of Italy's braver souls continued a seven-decade-old New Year's tradition by leaping off a bridge in Rome into the river Tiber. The divers braved the cold but sunny weather in nothing but a swimming costume.

They were pulled to safety on to a waiting inflatable boat before joining the crowds on the river banks to celebrate. The temperature of the water was no more than 6 degrees Celsius.

The oldest of the team was 66-year-old Maurizio Palmulli, also known as Mister Ok, a former lifeguard who was making his 31st dive. "It was good and cold, friends! Really cold!" he told AFP after emerging from the river. "Everything went well, no one got hurt, there were only nice folk and that makes me really, really happy," he added.

The other divers were Marco Fois, Simone Carabella and Walter Schirra, who leapt from the bridge with an Italian flag in each hand. Palmulli and his colleagues are continuing a tradition first practised in 1946 when the Italo-Belgian diver Rick de Sonay dived into the river.

In the slightly warmer waters of Portugal, Santa Clauses, jailbirds, and football players frolicked in the waves of Carcavelos beach near Lisbon, while in Cap d'Agde, southern France, several swimmers ensured that the local tradition of skinny dipping sent the old year out without a stitch.

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